Feb 25th 2010 07:55 pm |
Like many race fans at this time of year, I am beginning to show symptoms of Derby fever. Unfortunately, we are still a few months away, so to whittle away some time before then, I decided to do a little project. I am not much of a numbers guy but sometimes you just can’t avoid numbers if you are trying to gain a better understanding of a particular subject.
The question that sparked this article was a simple one: How major are the major Derby preps? In other words, how can you express, in raw numbers, the influence of the Bluegrass Stakes, Florida Derby, Wood Memorial, and Santa Anita Derby on the outcome of the Kentucky Derby? What I decided to do was start in 1952 – the first year of the Florida Derby – and focus on the top three finishers in those four races and see how they fared on the First Saturday in May.
Since 1952, 46 of 59 winners of the Kentucky Derby finished in the top three in the Bluegrass, Florida Derby, Wood Memorial, or Santa Anita Derby. Of those 13 who did not, two finished fourth in the Santa Anita Derby (Giacomo and Charismatic) and one finished fourth in the Blue Grass (Sea Hero). In 1966, Kauai King finished fifth in the Florida Derby prior to winning a three-year-old stake at Bowie in Maryland. That makes it 50 out of 59 who finished in the top five in one of the major preps since 1952.
If we add the Arkansas Derby to the mix, then we can add a few more runners who finished first at Oaklawn (Smarty Jones, Sunny Halo) or second (Lil E Tee, Grindstone).
That leaves us with only five outliers. In 1985, Spend a Buck took the short-lived Jersey road to the Derby in winning the Garden State Stakes and Cherry Hill Mile before winning the roses at Churchill. In 2002, War Emblem used a win in the Illinois Derby to take the field wire-to-wire in Kentucky. In War Emblem’s Derby year, none of the colts that finished in the top three in the four major preps could manage second or third. It is fitting in a year when the Illinois Derby produced the Kentucky Derby winner, that the runners from the traditional preps fared so poorly (the only time that has occurred since 1952).
The three runners that remain — Dark Star (1953), Cannonero II (1971), and Mine That Bird (2009) — are among the biggest Derby upsetters ever. Dark Star ran in the Florida Derby but he finished 13th by 16 lengths. He won the Derby Trial just a few days prior to his shocking victory over the undefeated Native Dancer (it would be Native Dancer’s only career loss from 22 starts). Another of the outliers is Mine That Bird. We are all familiar with his story, he finished 4th in the Sunland Derby in New Mexico before winning the Kentucky Derby in 2009. And, finally, we are left with Canonero II, who not only won the Derby but the Preakness too. Mine that Bird was a surprise but, as far as racing upsets go, nothing compares to Canonero II. How would you have played this one if you were handicapping the 1971 Derby?
If you are interested in more details, I put together a spreadsheet in Google docs that includes the top three finishers in each of the four major Derby preps since 1952.
SOURCES, NEWS, AND NOTES
Last weekend marked the beginning of the real Derby prep season with the Southwest, Fountain of Youth, and Risen Star. If you would like to keep current with all of the races leading to this year’s Kentucky Derby, sign up for the Derby prep alerts from Hello Race Fans.
THANKS FOR READING AND GOOD LUCK!
Filed in thoroughbred racing history